Criticism over delays to London Fire Brigade investigation

Tory mayoral candidate Susan Hall gave LFB commissioner Andy Roe a grilling at the London Assembly this week, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

Susan Hall and Andy Roe
Susan Hall and Andy Roe

The London Fire Brigade (LFB) has faced criticism from Tory mayoral candidate Susan Hall, who accused it of taking a “ridiculous” amount of time to conclude an investigation into a firefighter’s suicide.

London Assembly member Hall told fire commissioner Andy Roe that “enough is enough” when it comes to delays affecting the publication of a report into the death of 21-year-old firefighter Jaden Francois-Esprit.

Roe told the assembly on 5th December that a third investigation had recently been launched into the case of Francois-Esprit, who took his own life in August 2020. The commissioner said that this third report was being finalised at that time, and would be presented to the LFB within two weeks.

But Hall complained on Thursday (8th) that the report – which is being independently authored – had still not been published. “Every time we have a discussion, [you say] ‘it’s going to be sorted out’ and it still has not been,” she said.

Roe replied: “I’m not seeking to excuse that, but that investigation particularly has to be done properly.”

Francois-Esprit’s family have said he was being bullied due to his race and teased by colleagues about his packed lunches of Caribbean food.

Some 33 LFB staff members are currently suspended pending various disciplinary investigations. Hall said in December that the families of those suspended staff members have “been asking for their files or their notes or what they are actually being looked into for and are not able to get that”.

Hall said on Thursday it was “not fair to anybody, including the mother of Jaden” that the investigation had not yet concluded and that the mental health of those waiting for the report “must be under severe threat”.

The commissioner said: “I agree with you assembly member Hall. The challenge for me is that that report runs into the hundreds of pages, we’re talking about [several] witnesses, well beyond 30.

“It’s about making sure that having come back to this again, we do it in a way that is absolutely to the highest quality.

“I can only apologise to the families [of those waiting for the report], I can only apologise to you. But we will not bring that report to [its] conclusion until I’m satisfied as commissioner that it’s been done in a way that actually maintains the integrity of LFB, however difficult the outcomes of it, and I have to accept responsibility – I think you’re fair in your challenge.”

He said that he was being “briefed on the report next week” and that he would “think about how we appropriately communicate and move it forwards” after that briefing.

The capital’s fire service has said it is “working hard” to reform its culture in response to an external review in 2022 which found the organisation overall to be “institutionally misogynist and racist”.

Roe told the assembly in December that the LFB has so far ‘exited’ 13 people in response to the review’s findings, authored by former chief crown prosecutor for the north-west of England, Nazir Afzal.

He said that of this figure, six “have been exited with no opportunity to be re-employed”, while the remaining seven “resigned, with loss of pension, loss of rights” before they reached the misconduct hearing stage.

But Liberal Democrat Hina Bokhari on Thursday questioned how many of those dismissals were related to the findings of Afzal’s review, following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request she submitted.

The FOI showed that the 13 staff members referred to by Roe were “exited” from the LFB for several reasons, including “unauthorised absence from duty” and “undertaking outside employment without permission”.

However, the list of reasons also included “criminal charges or convictions”, “bringing the authority into serious disrepute” and “inappropriate behaviour”.

The commissioner insisted to Bokhari: “There was not one of those dismissals that didn’t speak to a culture of either [im]proper service or behaviour within my establishment.

“I’m clear that we are exiting people on the context of bullying and harassment – because I do see the detail of the cases.

“I am afraid, with the greatest of respect, that you will not get all of that detail, because the numbers – despite growing by the day – do not enable me to talk about the detail of the cases… because you would be able to identify the individuals.”

The FOI also revealed that ten of those who had been ‘exited’ were non-uniformed members of staff and three were uniformed.

If you’re struggling and need to talk, the Samaritans operate a free helpline open 24/7 on 116 123. Alternatively, you can email [email protected] or visit their site to find your local branch.

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